Midnight Cowboy

Shane's grinning Death Angel and his (fairly good) Nashville country album

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In 1969, Palance was filming in Nashville, and fell in with an emerging singer-songwriter: Kris Kristofferson. When Palance mentioned he’d toyed with making a country record himself, Kristofferson introduced him to local legend Buddy Killen, who’d started out playing bass with Hank Williams and hit the commercial motherlode recording Roger Miller. Intrigued, Killen rounded up the cream of the Tennessee capital’s session men?like Dylan veterans Kenneth Buttrey, Charlie McCoy and Pete Drake?and unloaded two barrels of Nashville sound, cutting 11 tracks with Palance.

Trainspotting and kitsch appeal aside, though, is the record any good? Well, in places, better than good. Often, Palance resorts to the actor’s standby of talking through a tune, and standards like “My Elusive Dreams” and “Green, Green Grass Of Home” are regular Nashville-machine saccharine. Elsewhere, though, it’s the real deal. A version of Red Lane’s chaingang murder ballad “Blackjack County Chains” stings: Cool Hand Luke remade as low-budget revenge flick, with a score by Lee Hazelwood. Palance’s self-penned, self-mocking “The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived” is mordant novelty in the area of “Big Bad John”, but he outdoes that with “Goodbye Lucy”, a deceptively sugary, late-night singalong, narrated from the perspective of a desperate, deadbeat serial adulterer whose days of swinging are long behind him.

The opener, a superb, crystal-clear cover of Lane’s rolling rover’s anthem “Brother River”, is the undoubted highlight, Palance’s resigned, from-the-bar-room-floor voice caught midway between Cash and Kristofferson on a song with the sweep of the big country, tumbling along on light, silvery pedal-steel. “Dancing Like Children” is something else again: apprehensive psycho-melodrama such as wouldn’t seem out of place on Scott 3, Killen conjuring an insidious atmosphere while Palance whispers memories of long-gone love, the whole thing sickly sweet as dying flowers.

It’s this track that best mirrors the eerie beauty of the album’s cover: Palance’s reptilian features?part-sculpted by surgeons after a bomber he was piloting crashed during World War II?caught in a stark, midnight mugshot. Like a rhinestone vampire.


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